For many people, television advertisements may appear to be just people talking, singing and maybe, dancing for the few seconds it takes to promote a product or service. They might think that advertisements are easy to make, being simply people standing around in a pleasant environment having fun.
Many people might think they could do the same. However, advertising is not as easy as it might look, and making advertisements can be quite a challenge, especially in Ramadan.
Ramadan has become a season of increased consumerism when many people pay more attention to shopping. Marketers need to understand how to effectively market their goods and services during this season in order to take advantage of the many opportunities it contains and to avoid making costly mistakes. For this reason, Ramadan is often considered the most difficult period of the year for the advertising industry.
“Normally we start thinking about the Ramadan advertising season two-and-a-half months beforehand. We receive briefs on clients’ objectives regarding their business and marketing. We start by mapping out a strategy and thinking about how we will meet those objectives,” said Ahmed Wahid, a 31-year-old creative director in an advertising agency in Cairo. “One ad usually takes a month to make. A campaign needs a 360-degree perspective, and work on a campaign can easily take two or three months,” he said.
Advertising in Ramadan
Business, creative, production, strategy, segment and direction teams all work individually and cooperatively on the same advertisements. The teams are divided up and sometimes duplicated among the advertising agency, the client, the production company and the post-production company. There are many different entities that work on producing just one advertisement that lasts a minute or less.
“The hardest part that puts a lot of pressure on us is the tight schedule and how to get everything ready for the first day of Ramadan. Imagine how much more challenging this was this year with the Covid-19 pandemic, when everybody was staying at home but we still had to plan shooting and scheduling,” Wahid added.
“The competition is also a huge pressure, especially as Ramadan is a main season for us that we await from one year to the next. You always want your ad to be the best in any given year. You are also put on the spot: one bad ad in Ramadan can sink the agency, whereas a high-quality ad could be a real hit. Hence, the psychological pressure begins.”
Wahid has been working in the field for almost 11 years and is used to the pressure. “It’s my job,” he said. “It doesn’t get any less; on the contrary, the scale of the work only gets bigger, along with the pressure and responsibilities. But experience is the key to how to manage these things.”
“When I started my career, I experienced a lack of understanding of the job from my family and friends. All they used to see was a 30-second ad, like everyone who’s not involved in the field. They used to think this wasn’t such a big deal, but that was because they didn’t know that these 30 seconds take months of preparation and production.”
The workflow slows down for advertisers as Ramadan approaches, however. “Ramadan itself is considered our vacation after some really hard work, including staying at work for days at a time and not being able to see family. That’s why once we hand over the campaign to the client, we feel a great sense of release. We work with flexibility, celebrate the success and enjoy the feedback,” Wahid added.
“We reflect current events in our campaigns too. At the moment, the country is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, and so are we. Many things have been affected or suspended, including our work. Our clients are trying to cut down their expenses, and advertisements are in the front line. Covid-19 has affected our industry badly, and there were a lot of campaigns that I was working on that had to be stopped or cancelled,” he said.
Advertising in Ramadan
OTHER OPINIONS: Sherine Wassef, an advertising accounts director, has a slightly different opinion.
“There’s no such thing as a slowdown in the advertising world. Advertising is very much based on seasonality, which varies for different brands all year round, so we pretty much work throughout the entire year,” she said.
“The season for Ramadan ads normally launches months before it starts, and campaigns can take up to six months to prepare. I personally worked on a campaign once that took ten months to prepare before the launch. You’d be amazed to know how many people it takes to see a 30-second commercial come to life,” she added.
“It starts with the marketing team of the brand itself, who send their request to the advertising agency. They contact the accounts management department that handles all its brands, with usually two people working on each client campaign. Accounts management discusses the brief with the planning team, also usually one or two people, and together they come up with a positioning for the campaign which they send over to the creative department, consisting of a creative director heading a team of copywriters, art directors and designers, usually around three to five people.”
“Once the idea comes to life and is approved by the client, it goes to the production department, usually a couple of producers, who coordinate with a third-party production house. Based on the agency’s recommendations, the production house, sometimes up to 50 people, ensures that the casting agency, director, shooting logistics and any post-production members are all on board. It could be up to 60 or 65 people involved from scratch to the final product,” Wassef said.
“Deadlines are our nightmare. Clients invest a lot of money in the media during Ramadan because it’s the high season of the year, so we can’t afford to lose one day of broadcasting. We need to make sure that everything runs smoothly and is error-free by the time of airing. In a nutshell, getting all this done in a very short period can become quite stressful. Also, sometimes two people don’t agree on one thing; so, imagine having more than 10 people agreeing on it. It all requires a lot of persuasion, negotiation and patience.”
To blow off steam and deal with the time pressures, Wassef tries to strike a balance by listening to music and doing yoga. “Anything to keep me sane, if I have time after working hours. Did I say working hours? Working hours is a term that doesn’t exist in this industry,” she said. “Every brand is different, has different needs and caters to a specific target audience. It’s important not to have a ‘one size fits all’ policy for different brands – you need to ensure their unique selling proposition is clearly communicated. It’s quite exciting because you have to be well rounded about many industries and many goods.”
Even so, Wassef tries to slow down a bit in Ramadan. “Family is my priority, and I always make it a point to find time for them, especially in Ramadan. My family has been nothing but supportive of my job. Sometimes they wish I worked fewer hours when I am pulling an all-nighter, but other than that they have been great,” she explained.
“As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, some people are self-quarantined, but work has doubled or even tripled since, as most brands still want to get out there and communicate and have been very active during the outbreak. As much as the crisis has been terrifying for many, in every crisis there’s an opportunity, and there have been tremendous shifts in the ways brands have been adapting to this paradigm shift. Whether it’s launching e-commerce platforms, or communicating Stay at Home campaigns, it has been quite a rollercoaster ride,” Wassef added.
The job also stays fun despite the pressures. “For me, it’s a love-hate relationship. I believe it’s one of the most dynamic and fun jobs out there. I get to work with top designers, directors, actors, celebrities and singers, as well as some of the most creative minds in the country. I do wish sometimes I did not have to work so much, but I can’t say it doesn’t pay off when I drive by a billboard that we spent endless nights crafting as a team.”
For Nevine Ragab, an advertising director and creative director, “Ramadan is always a surprise for the industry. We are always out of time and hurtling to meet a deadline, but I think the main reason is that we go into an especially focused state so that we can deliver the best product for this special season,” she said.
“Typically, the load subsides after the first ten days of Ramadan when we start delivering the work. But Ramadan can also be quite a marathon as it lasts all month long,” she added. “The time it takes delivering an ad depends on the brief and how many days of shooting. I would say a minimum of three weeks is the shortest period when I’ve been briefed, shot and delivered an ad.”
“For me, the biggest pressure is the uncertainty. The fact that you imagine something in your head that only you have access to, but that you have to communicate that to a team of 50 people following your lead. The good thing is that the uncertainty makes me work harder, research more and hope for the best,” she explained.
On family plans in Ramadan, Ragab said that “I am super lucky to be part of a family that really appreciates my passion for what I do.” She said that this year the industry had been hit hard by the coronavirus situation. “However, it’s an opportunity to dive into research and get more inspired. This job has no timing, no schedule and no guidelines. There is no way one would last in it if not driven by passion.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly